How to run an effective virtual all hands meeting (with tips)
You know the saying, ‘all hands on deck?’ Well, that’s the gist of an All Hands meeting. It’s an event where everyone in your organization gets together to catch up on what they’re working on and plan for the future.
Often, you see a few worried faces when an all hands meeting is called. That’s because many companies only call everyone together when something big (aka ‘bad’) happens.
But that’s not what an all hands meeting is.
An all hands meeting is a chance for everyone to reconnect and discuss how they can start collaborating to strengthen the company. Think of it as an opportunity to bring together people from different teams who don’t normally work with one another. They can find new approaches to old problems or develop ideas for new projects.
Usually, this type of meeting is done in person, with everyone piling into a room to chat. But given the pandemic, coupled with the rise in remote working, they’re increasingly being held virtually. No matter whether you’re calling your first-ever remote all hands meeting or simply looking for tips on how to run a great one, here are some best practices.
What is an all hands meeting?
First of all, let’s clarify what exactly an “all hands meeting” is.
In a nutshell, it’s a time when everyone in the company (or organization) meets together, either in person or virtually.
You can use it for brainstorming sessions, special reports, and discussions on important topics. You can announce new product features and strategies, upcoming projects, or what’s going well or not so well around the office.
Having an all hands meeting helps people feel involved in the company, which is good for morale. It can even spur new ideas for collaborations between teams — or give you better insight into how the company works.
All hands meetings:
- Include your entire organization
- Happen synchronously (as opposed to asynchronously)
- Help drive alignment around company mission and strategy
- Give everyone a platform, regardless of job title or role
- Are for sharing business updates of the past month, quarter, or season
- Are a great way to celebrate milestones and team achievements
How to run a great all hands meeting
Running one yourself is a daunting task. Will it be difficult for people to speak up? What if there are disagreements? And how do you get everyone coordinated?
First of all, don’t worry.
All hands meetings are actually one of the easier events to run well. All you need is an agenda (more tips on creating this later on), time, and bandwidth, and you’re ready to roll. Ready? Here’s how.
1. Lay the groundwork
First, you need to understand the purpose of the meeting and who you’re having it for. Make sure everyone gets a heads up about your topic, the length of the meeting, and why they’re supposed to attend.
Next, sort out the roles of anyone helping you run the meeting. You’re leading it, but you should also choose a moderator and a minutes-taker. The former will help you keep the meeting on track; the latter takes notes and sends them around post-meeting.
Finally, do a tech check. Make sure your chosen platform is up and running, that cameras and mics are all working, and that everyone knows how to log in and use the tools.
So to recap, before you hold the meeting, your attendees should know:
- What it’s about
- Why the meeting is happening
- How long it will take
- Who will be doing what
- How to use the tech
It’s also important to get all employees on board with this meeting style before you run one. If attendees feel their opinions aren’t being heard, it will result in tension building up around the office over time. So, explain what the format will be like and what they can expect.
Icebreaker questions are a great way to get everyone warmed up. Ask everyone to write down something they’ve learned at work recently or an interesting fact about themselves. You could also try giving people one minute to introduce each person sitting near them. For example, begin with #1 introducing #2, then #2 introducing #3, and so on.
After icebreakers, it’s time to get into the meeting mindset. Celebrations of things you’ve accomplished, messages from the CEO, and team roundups are all great segues into the main body of your meeting. They also help everyone settle into business mode after your lighthearted icebreakers. Our recommendation? Dedicate 15 to 30 minutes of your meeting to this section.
So to recap, here’s what your welcome and introduction should cover:
- Icebreakers and introductions
- A message from the CEO
- Celebrations and team wins
- Team roundups
3. The main course
The meat of the meeting should be structured into key talking points that logically follow each other. Be as creative as you like! Slides, video, audio, audience participation, brainstorming games, and polls are all allowed. The more variety you can incorporate, the better. No one wants to sit through an hour or more of one person droning on non-stop.
Once you’ve gone through the bulk of your meeting, end with a Q&A session. This gives attendees a chance to further engage with the discussion points. If these questions spur new topics for discussion, either address them right away or take notes and revisit them later. Do whatever makes sense for your meeting schedule. You don’t want to run on so long that people get bored and lose interest.
4. The follow-up
Meeting over? Thank everyone for their time, and if there’s a follow-up planned, remind everyone where and when it will take place.
Once you’re back at your desk, tidy up those minutes, send them out, and then start assigning tasks (if you’re the one running the show). And that’s it! Easy, right?
All hands meetings: best practice
When running a virtual all hands meeting, consider these points to get the most out of your session.
Make it short and focused: Optimize time by having clear objectives and sticking to them.
Be prepared: Have all your materials ready and know what you’re going to say.
Engage the audience: Keep everyone’s attention with visuals, demos, and discussions. Use visual aids and mix up the format — the more varied and fun, the better. And remember: not everyone learns in the same way (some people are aural learners, others visual). So, the more formats you can use, the wider comprehension will be across the group.
Use a moderator: Keep things on track and ensure everyone has a chance to speak.
Invite the right people: Double-check you’ve invited everyone who needs to be there and send the invite out in good time (i.e., not 30 minutes before the meeting).
Set guidelines and a schedule: A schedule keeps things moving forward and encourages everyone to be focused and active during the meeting.
Stay on mute if you’re not talking: A group of 10 or more people with their mics all switched on is a recipe for chaos. Tell everyone that it’s best to stay on mute when they’re not talking.
Check the tech: There are few things more annoying than tech snafus when time is at a premium. To ensure things run smoothly, test your tools, and get everyone else to do the same, so you’re ready to roll from the beginning.
Record the meeting: Most platforms have a recording option. Use that, then send out the recording afterward. It helps people recap and pick up important points they may have missed. It’s also a great way to share the meeting with those who couldn’t attend.
Break out into smaller chat groups: Not only does this give the quieter people a chance to speak, but it also helps you avoid groupthink and could lead to more creative and varied discussion.
Send out minutes promptly: Provide information that helps everyone understand what you discussed and what’s expected of them. People who weren’t able to attend will also feel more included.
Assign tasks: This is the only way to ensure follow-up actions are taken.
Choose the right tech: Remove both location and time barriers for your next all hands meeting. From Zoom to chat apps like Typetalk, collaboration software is a great way to connect from anywhere in the world. Choose tools that are easy to use and make sense for your team.
- For more remote meeting tips, check out our guide to virtual meeting etiquette
An all hands meeting is a key part of any company’s communication strategy. It brings everyone together to share updates, discuss important decisions, and assign tasks. By following these simple tips, you can make sure your next all hands meeting is one to remember (for all the right reasons).
Top tip? To get the most out of your meeting, use technology that makes the job of talking, connecting, and sharing easier. The ability to see everyone’s faces during a live broadcast means you can build team spirit and keep everyone focused on the tasks at hand. Cloud-based diagramming tools and project management software allow you to track shared documents in real time, while instant messaging enables direct contact between attendees.
Virtual collaboration creates a far more engaging experience than reading bullet point slides off a projector screen. And the convenience of meeting remotely removes the pressure of arranging a physical presence for every single member of staff.